Seven Chincoteague ponies have died from ‘swamp cancer’

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Within the last few months, three female Chincoteague ponies have died plus four other ponies have been euthanized after what has become referred to as “swamp cancer.” The fungus-like disease produces painful lesions and other severe health problems for the wild ponies who have grazed on a Virginia barrier island for centuries.

According to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, on December 28, the sad announcement came:

“Throughout this whole “swamp cancer” process we have consulted with Dr. Hansen and Dr. Glass. They have been generous with their time and service. Our vet team has been hands on practically 24/7. After much consultation and much professional vet medical opinions, a decision was made to humanely euthanize the last four remaining ponies fighting this awful, awful fungus. Shadow, Lightning, Calceti’n and Elusive Star as well as the others received the very best care money could buy. They had surgeries, more medicine than you can imagine, round the clock care and lots and lots of love and attention. They just couldn’t fight this off and before we let them suffer any more than they have been, we feel the right decision was made…”

No one knows for sure how the Chincoteague ponies even arrived on the barrier island, although it is thought they may have survived a shipwreck. Nevertheless, they managed to survived on Assateague Island. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company manages the herd. Tragically, the cause of the “swamp cancer” is still unknown.

It is estimated there are about 150 wild ponies and fortunately they now seem to be healthy, but there is a fear a reinfection could come again once the temperatures warm up. It is hoped a vaccine can be developed, or at the very least, a successful method to treat the ponies if they do get sick. Early detection is the best, but these are wild ponies and don’t necessarily come to the clearings where the initial symptoms could be recognized. The bacteria comes from dying grass and plants. According to CNN News, zoospores are attracted to a pony’s hair or cuts – even a tiny wound can fester quickly and create lesions eventually compromising the animal’s immune system.

The ponies are a huge tourist attraction. Every July, the ponies make the five-minute swim as they paddle across a channel from Assateague to Chincoteague where the foals are sold. Selling the foals not only finances the fire company, but also controls the population.  People who buy the animals brag about how smart the ponies are – and once domesticated, they are used for riding and jumping. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department deworms, vaccinates and checks the teeth and the hooves of the herd.

If you have never been to see them, they are beautiful. Let’s hope they stay healthy.

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2 replies
  1. Bunny Peters says:

    Absolutely heartbreaking that we have lost so many young ponies…… These treasures are part of our national heritage (& stories about them have enchanted generations of kids, turning them into lifelong horse lovers)…….
    Prayers for the remaining ponies????????????


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